02 April 2014

Do The Ball And The Wheel Meet?

The Mets, one of this city's local Major League Baseball teams, opened their season.  The city's other local side, the Yankees, did likewise yesterday.

Bicycles parked at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins

While I don't watch baseball (or other team sports) games nearly as much as I once did, I'll confess that I still get excited over the start of the MLB season.  In part, it has to do with my enthusiasm for the game itself:  No other team sport, save perhaps for the one the rest of the world calls football, rewards strategic thinking and pure-and-simple intelligence.

But much of my excitement also has to do with the fact that those first regular season games are as much a sign of spring as the blooming crocuses.  And, of course, spring means more and better cycling--in most years, anyway.

One thing I've noticed is that, in adults, there's very little, if any, correlation between participation in, or being a fan of, cycling and playing or following baseball--or, for that matter, any of the other major team sports (basketball, hockey and American football).  A committed cyclist, whether or not professional, is more likely to be a runner, swimmer, ice skater (speed or figure) or skier than an infielder, linebacker or point guard.  

Perhaps even more interestingly, the realms of cycling and what the rest of the world calls football (soccer) almost never meet, even in those countries that are powerhouses in both sports.  

Belgium is one of the best examples I can think of.  Perhaps no other country has turned out more cycling champions in proportion to its population.  And, having been there, I can tell you that almost everywhere in the country, at almost any time, there is some cycling event or another taking place, whether a race, randonnee, audax, tour or commemorative ride of some sort.  

And, although it has not won the World Cup or the Olympics, Belgium has given the world as many fine footballers per capita as any nation.  That country's best are found on team rosters in the world's elite leagues, including the British Premiership, the German Bundesliga and the top Italian and Spanish leagues.

Still, I cannot come up with the name of any Belgian--or, for that matter, any other European or any South American--who excelled at both sports, or who even excelled at one and was better-than-average at the other.  

Now, it may well be that to excel in countries with such strong competiton in any sport requires complete commitment, leaving little or no time for others.  It may also have to do with the timing of the seasons:  After all, cycling and soccer seasons are on roughly the same timelines, while there is little overlap between ski or skate and bike seasons.  And some sports, like swimming and track-and-field, are more-or-less year-round, so athletes from other sports can compete during their off-seasons.

Somehow, though, I suspect there's another reason.  It may have to do with the fact that cycling is mainly an individual sport.  Even when a rider is on a team, he or she still is competing for individual honors--or to help the team's leader do the same--in ways that athletes in team sports do not.  Also, riding, whether as a member of a team or in a tour, is still a more solitary experience than, say, being a quarterback or shortstop.

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